A mural can make you pause, marvel at the artistry, drink in the stimulating colors. But what can a mural actually do? For artist and community organizer Mac Love, it can accomplish quite a bit.
Known for his Believeland mural on West Ninth Street, his Rally Together work in Public Square and his 1,600-square-foot decorative wall classing up the construction in Edgewater Park, Mac Love is the type of artist who lets his geographic location influence his style. His passion and commitment to Northeast Ohio can be traced right back to his childhood abroad.
“My father is from North Olmsted, so I was raised on Cleveland sports,” says Love. “At 11, my family moved to Belgium, where I went to middle school and high school. The farther away I got from the U.S., the more the Indians sports scores gave me something to hold onto.”
His latest endeavor, a $240,000 Knight Foundation grant for a project called @Play, has him spending the next 18 months traveling every street in Akron. His mission? To identify where people play, locate where they experience positive or negative issues and discover what kind of art residents most want to see.
From this on-the-ground urban planning, 24 public art projects will be commissioned with a third of the funding reserved for local artists. The project de-emphasizes downtown in favor of lifting up all of Akron’s two-dozen neighborhoods.
“All over America, money is being pumped into downtowns, the heart of communities,” says Love. “But if you don’t take care of the arteries, the community won’t be healthy. We’ll get to downtown, but it will be the last place we visit after we walk the streets of the surrounding area.”
The official goals of @Play are threefold: to provide a forum where everyone can have input on what public art can look like; to give businesses and leaders an opportunity to see the authentic expression within their community; and to create a neutral environment where people with divergent viewpoints have an opportunity to express themselves. Unofficially, a fourth goal exists: these pieces can change the world.
With a coloring book for thousands of residents to submit their art ideas for the Kenmore neighborhood, a series of collaborative and thematic murals in Middlebury installed in January and an upcoming community painting project of a public pool area in Goodyear Heights, Love is focused on creating art locally while constantly seeking a way to make each piece reflect the narrative of the community.
“If we do this right, it will be a great roadmap to do justice to the people of Northeast Ohio,” says Love. “We’re focused on creating interactive art challenges that bring diverse people together and encourage deeper community connections. All of the communities we have spoken to want more creativity, more color and more vibrancy. Our goal is to give people the tools to add color to their neighborhood.”